Have you seen the documentary, “The Donut King”? If not, I encourage you to watch it on Hulu. You may be wondering why I am bringing up a documentary when I am reviewing the book, “An American Dream, with Sprinkles: The Legacy Story of the Donut Queen and Donut Princess.” It’s all connected, as the subject of the doc, Ted Ngoy (affectionately known as “The Donut King”) is Mayly Tao’s great uncle.
An immigrant’s dream, in search of opportunity, and it all started with a donut. You see, Ngoy had built his fortune on a donut empire that spanned the West Coast. Over the years he sponsored hundreds of visas for Cambodian refugees, offered them jobs in his donut shops and leased the shops to those immigrants, taking a percentage of the stores’ profits. Tao’s mother’s donut shop, DK’s Donuts in Santa Monica, was one of them.
So now that you know the backstory, what is “An American Dream, with Sprinkles: The Legacy Story of the Donut Queen and Donut Princess” about?
This is the story of Chuong Pek Lee, as told to her daughter, Mayly Tao. The book pays homage to the arduous journey faced by millions of immigrants who arrive in the United States annually—penniless, without an education, and unable to speak English.
Chuong Pek Lee recounts her journey of homelessness, malnutrition, and labor enslavement in Cambodia. Upon arriving in America, Chuong found herself a part of donut royalty as she married into the family of the Donut King, Ted Ngoy, who opened up hundreds of donut shops for Khmer refugees. Mayly Tao, her daughter, created this book and wrote it not only to tell the success story of their family bakery but to highlight the Asian American perspective through the eyes of a “donut kid,” children who helped their parents with their donut shops. Most of those donut kids never returned to their family donut shops to work, but Mayly did and learned how to use social media to bring the family donut shop to the next level of fame and success to become one of the most popular donut shops in the world. In addition, this book explores generational differences and cultural importance, including the role of the Asian American woman in her family.
I’ve followed DK’s Donuts for years, even before it made it big on social media. Remember the cronut craze? Since the original bakery was in NYC, when I found out that DK’s Donuts had a version, I drove to Santa Monica to try it out and it was so delicious!
I follow Tao’s Instagram and when I saw that she wrote a book, I just knew that I had to read it. How fitting that read it during the month of May, which is also Asian American and Pacific Heritage Month!
The book is split into two parts. The first part is told from Lee’s point of view and delves into her experience in Cambodia, immigrating to America, learning the ropes of a donut shop, her arranged marriage and handing over the reins to her daughter. The second part is told from Tao’s perspective, where she recounts her early years working at the shop and how she eventually rebranded the store by changing up its marketing strategy with a cool logo and eye-catching donut flavors/designs. You’ll notice that in my blog post about the DKronuts (croissant donuts), the shop’s signage is the original one, not the one with the colorful logo that you see today.
The book is a fascinating read. From a personal perspective, I could relate to the immigrant experience, as my grandparents immigrated from the Philippines to Hawaii and learned to assimilate to a new culture. As someone who has worked in the marketing and social media space for 15+ years, I really enjoyed learning how Tao implemented her ideas to grow the business.
Disclosure: No monetary compensation was received for this post. I received a complimentary book which helped facilitate this review. All images are my own unless otherwise noted. As always, my opinions are 100% my own.